Sport can help heal New Zealand in the wake of Chritstchurch mosque shootings

OPINION: I was walking along the Roman Road when a roar, so loud that it seemed to leave a crack in the blue London sky, caused me to look up above the narrow streets. A vapour trail of red, white and blue streaked the sky. I smiled. London had been awarded the Olympics. The day was July 6, 2005.

Less than 24 hours later I was phoning home. Shortly after I had got off the Heathrow Express trains were cancelled all over the city. London was in shutdown. Three bombs had gone off on the underground. Another was to be detonated on a bus.

Fifty-two people died. They didn’t ‘pass.’ They were slaughtered. Families grieved. Like most we were a lucky family. We had survived. But one image has stayed with me from that time. It is not the carnage. It is the red, white and blue in the London sky. It is the image of hope.

Politicians could have reacted to the evil of those terrorists by cancelling the London Olympics. The IOC could have said that London is not a safe city and moved the Games somewhere else. And they would have been right. London is not a safe city. Terrorist atrocities are still being committed. And it is only through the genius of the intelligence services that far more acts of cruelty have not fractured the city.

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But I think those people understood that hope is far more important than safety. We can live without safety. We do so almost every day. But it is very hard to live without hope. And hope was represented by the London Olympics. It brought a city together. It brought an ethnically diverse country together where Mo Farah, Alistair Brownlee, Jessica Ennis, Anthony Joshua, Charlotte Dujardin and Andy Murray were all equally heroes.


Andy Murray waves the British flag during the medal ceremony for the men’s singles tennis event at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Sport, at its best, unites us and unifies us. It has helped unite Ireland where golf and rugby are played as one country. It is a balm. It is a blanket. I am not sure that I like Jacinda Ardern’s phrase “they are us”. Who are they. In an ideal sports team everyone is we, everyone is us.

In that ideal, perhaps idealised, world of sport all ethnicities come together. South Africa is still very far from a rainbow nation, but the rugby team, under the captaincy of Siya Kolisi, looks more unified than it has ever done. Sport is not a cure but it is powerful medicine.

Siya Kolisi has helped unify the South African rugby team as the country's first black captain.


Siya Kolisi has helped unify the South African rugby team as the country’s first black captain.

Rugby in New Zealand is multi-cultural, although the leadership still looks too white to sit easy with many of us. Cricket in New Zealand is increasingly influenced by Asia. Black Caps Jeet Raval, Ish Sodhi and Ajaz Patel were all born in India. They are part of a world, part of a country, that is slowly coming together.

That’s not to be self-congratulatory and complacent. There is still far too much casual racism in New Zealand and I have always been jittery about the name the Crusaders, although I acknowledge the issue is not entirely black and red. But can you imagine a team named the Jihadists. Where is the difference?

And in an ideal world, perhaps the cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh would have gone ahead. Imagine the players linking arms before the start. Imagine New Zealand declining to bowl bouncers. Imagine the warmth of the crowd. Imagine.

Of course, I appreciate that was not possible. Bangladesh’s players were traumatised by the proximity of events. Batsman Tamim said, “You had seen death with your own eyes. Your body goes cold. It was something we will never forget. And it is such a thing, it is getting worse with every hour we pass…

“One thing for sure, it will take a long time to get over. I hope the families help us. We might need counselling. I close my eyes, and I am seeing those scenes. Last night most of the cricketers slept in groups.”

And yet, imagining the Bangladeshi cricketers sleeping in groups was itself a powerful image. Sport, the good stuff that rises far above tribalism and hooliganism, holds people together. It is not a coincidence that Wellington’s vigil was held at the Basin Reserve, the capital’s cricket ground.

Phoenix striker Roy Krishna pays tribute to New Zealand's Islamic community after scoring a goal against Western Sydney in Wellington.


Phoenix striker Roy Krishna pays tribute to New Zealand’s Islamic community after scoring a goal against Western Sydney in Wellington.

When Roy Krishna scored the Phoenix’s opening goal against the Western Sydney Wanderers he knelt on the turf in a tribute to the suffering of New Zealand’s Islamic community, of which his wife is a part. It saddens me that the referee sent Krishna off for defending himself late in the game, lacking sensitivity to the occasion.

These are delicate times. Our prime minister has spoken beautifully on occasions but words can be so fragile. When Ardern says the gunman is not us; when she says “we utterly reject and condemn you;” when Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, says, “He’s not human. He does not deserve a name;” I wonder if they would have used the same words if the killer had been Muslim. Selective demonisation is an incendiary policy. It can blow up in our faces.

Last month Ardern was slow to condemn the bombing by Jaish-e-Mohammed that killed 43 Indians. Was she too liberally sensitive to stick her pale fingers in the Kashmir melting pot? Murder is murder. It needed the intervention of Kiwi Weekender, the Kiwi Indian website, to prise a comment, long after many other countries had responded with messages of sympathy and condemnation.

We must be careful. Ardern must be careful not to be selective about whom she condemns and whom she forgives. Inclusivity means everyone, even the worst in our society. Evil white supremacists need as much love as evil Islamic fanatics. Don’t hate hatred, show it love, because then there is no angry response.

At its finest sport is not selective. Half of New Zealand stood against apartheid because it was selective. The Warriors came together to play league on Saturday. A league of humans. David Fusitu’a led prayers the night before and nearly 20,000 people assembled to watch.

Coach Stephen Kearney said, “We’re a footy club full of all types of people – Tongans, Samoans, Australians, everything. I think it was really important we got on with things … I’m just pleased we were able to put on a performance that was worthy of that.”

As Kane Williamson said, “the need for love in our country has never been higher … Let’s come together.”

Let’s come together in sport. Let’s come together in hope. Let’s come together in song.

We can be the flower in the gun.


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Publish date : 2019-03-18 22:56:00

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